Take a vacation that you can't afford by starting now

Start Your Summer Vacation Planning Now

by Elizabeth Blair

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It's not too early to start planning for next summer's vacation. The beauty of planning months in advance is it gives you plenty of time to research and explore your options so you can get the best deals possible.

There are always the initial questions to ask: Where should you go? Is it better to fly or drive? Will you need to rent a car or does the location have convenient transportation such as monorails, subways or public buses? Is it a location that will appeal to the entire family?

Try choosing a couple of locations and comparing them. You might find your money goes a lot further in one location than another. Hotels may be cheaper and airfare may be a better deal.

As you shop for airlines take a look at the alternative airports. Sometimes an airport is only an hour or two away from your destination and ends up saving you hundreds of dollars.

Take a look at your credit card rewards. You might find you have enough miles to cover one or two airplane tickets or maybe your hotel will end up being free.

Do the opposite of using credit and fill up a prepaid credit card. When you get a surprise refund or a little extra cash comes your way, add it to the balance. You can use it for shopping, dining, attractions, or just as back up cash to prevent you from pulling out the credit card during the trip. Beware that ATMs charge on a cash withdrawal just like bank cards. Some services offer free account alerts on activity by email or text messages.

If you decide it's more practical to drive to your destination do the same with a prepaid card but designate it just for gas. Figure out the gas expense and aim to meet that goal before your trip. Try to aim high and keep in mind if gas prices drop, you will end up with extra cash to spend on your trip.

Check out your destination for attraction passes. Many of the cities and towns offer an inexpensive pass that gives users buy-one-get-one admission and other discounts. For example, Tucson, Arizona offers the Tucson Attractions Passport for $15 but has $400 worth of savings and Portland, Oregon has the similar Attraction Pass. There is also the New York Pass and Philadelphia Pass (.newyorkpass.com) and many of the major cities have the Go Card (gocardusa.com) and CityPASS (citypass.com) that saves time and money with access to attractions, discounts to stores and restaurants, and other benefits such as bumping to the front of lines. Such passes are also available internationally.

The kids can get involved too. Give them a travel themed piggy bank and remind the children to save a few dollars of their allowance or birthday money so they can buy their own souvenirs.

Dining out can be one of the most costly expenses of a vacation, but when you stay at one of the many resorts that offer all inclusive accommodations, it is not a problem. The Beaches (for families) and Sandals Resorts (for adults) offer such accommodations. Meals, beverages (including alcohol) and even midnight snacks are all included, as are activities such as water sports, kids' entertainment, family events, and adults-only activities. To top it off, these resorts are in beautiful locations.

No matter what type of vacation you desire if you start the planning now you will find yourself saving time, money and actually be able to relax on your vacation, just like you should.

Elizabeth L. Blair writes the monthly USATourist News Magazine for USATourist.com.

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